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It is a testament to the optimism of the left that some of us were able to find a silver lining even in the most toxic of black clouds which was the Charleston massacre. One of these was Maurice Mitchell of the Movement for Black Lives who was quoted as taking comfort in “the organizing and the heart and resilience we are seeing on the ground”. Mitchell was “hopeful that it will continue—that we might be able to precipitate a meaningful, transformative political and cultural shift in this country.”
Unfortunately, Mitchell’s optimism was probably misplaced for reasons Naomi Klein provides in the Shock Doctrine: crises, even those which might seem to galvanize the left, are routinely used as a smokescreen under which the right pursues their most regressive policies.
Last Thursday was no exception.
Indeed, while the bodies were being counted, the U.S. Congress approved HR 1314, a major step to achieving Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA, which will result in far more devastation in African American communities than white supremacists’ bullets. The difference lies in the violence being effected by fountain pen wielding men in suits resulting in unseen destruction–of jobs, environmental protections and organizing rights all of which adding up to mass unemployment, misery, and hopelessness and, ultimately, thousands of premature deaths.
This outrage provoked almost no discussion in liberal and left circles which a week before had been crowing about having imposed a “crippling” obstacle to the passage of the TPA through the defeat of enabling legislation.
Thursday showed that little has changed since the heady days of NAFTA when a similar phalanx of a centrist Democratic executive, almost all of the Republican caucus and a few key defectors from the Democrat ranks enabled the first round of jobs-destroying trade agreements.
Among the crucial votes this Thursday were Congressional Black Caucus members Stephanie Sewell, Eddie Bernice Johnson and Gregory Meeks whose overwhelmingly working class constituencies are sure to be among the biggest losers in the intensified race to the bottom the TPA is designed to promote.
But in the wake of the Charleston outrage, Sewell, Johnson and Meeks could be confident they would be insulated from any criticism for their vote, particularly from unions spearheading the opposition whose own history of racism remains an open wound for many African Americans.
Of course, the acknowledged master of racialized triangulation is the misleader in chief, Barack Obama whose service to elites was crucially enabled by liberals besotted by the prospect of an African American presidency, enthusiastically projecting all manner of left identitarian fantasies on to him-despite all evidence that he was committed to the corporate center right governance which has been the hallmark of his administration.
Those who had warned of this materializing hoped that the TPA, provoking Obama’s shameless attacks on the Democratic labor base and sullenly dishonest smears of Elizabeth Warren, would finally open the eyes of liberals to who they were dealing with.
No such luck. It’s a safe bet that the President will have some of his waning moral authority restored by Charleston. Demands from the black lives matter movement to “respect black leadership” will be cynically exploited by a ruling elite which recognized from the very beginning the unique value of cultivating multiculturally diverse spokespersons fronting for their neoliberal product line.
The strategy was first deployed by New York City mayor David Dinkins who was able to sell his candidacy to the establishment on the grounds that his left-liberal base, rather than rebel against his treasonous embrace of neoliberalism, would “take it from me.”
Let’s hope Barack Obama’s presidency will be seen as marking the zenith of this strategy.
It is time for the left to own up to its own role in enabling it and resolve to never allow itself to be played for suckers again.
John Halle blogs at Outrages and Interludes.